YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Thursday ordered law-enforcement authorities to clamp down on groups which are advocating political violence in Armenia as part of a “hybrid war” waged against his government.
Opening a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan, Pashinyan said that “forces directly or indirectly connected to the former corrupt system” are among those who are trying to destabilize the political situation in the country.
“We have operational information that a section of those circles has decided to form groups of people dressed in black that will walk around the city, try to create a certain mood, distinguish themselves with some impudent actions and so on,” he told government ministers.
Armenia’s police and National Security Service (NSS) must take “very tough” action against such groups as well as any calls for violence, said Pashinyan. “As regards those groups dressed in black, you have to locate them, sort out their black clothes, attach colorful bow ties to them, and escort them to a normal, civilized and lawful life,” he add, appealing to the heads of both law-enforcement bodies present at the cabinet meeting.
The national police chief, Valeri Osipyan, and the NSS director, Artur Vanetsyan, assured Pashinyan that they will execute the order. Osipyan told reporters afterwards that he has already issued relevant instructions to his subordinates. But he refused to give any details.
Pashinyan also accused the same allegedly subversive forces of spreading “disinformation” that the government has scrapped tuition fee discounts for university students who participated in the April 2016 war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“It’s the same people and the same circles,” he said. “And this is really a national security issue, Mr. Vanetsyan. Those people are waging a hybrid war against the Republic of Armenia.”
“Should these scoundrels feel good in this country?” the prime minister went on. “They must walk under sidewalks, wearing camouflage. Who do they think they are?”
Although Pashinyan said that “their names and surnames are known,” he did not name anyone.
On Wednesday, Pashinyan lambasted the former ruling coalition partner Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) for justifying a violent attack on a young activist of a rival party. “All those individuals who propagate violence must be held accountable,” he said.
Dashnaktsutyun representatives accused the activist of insulting Nagorno-Karabakh’s leaders and assaulting a veteran Dashnaktsutyun figure. They also claimed that the authorities are turning a blind eye to their supporters’ violent actions and hate speech.
Dashnaktsutyun was part of Armenia’s former government from 2016-2018. It also received two ministerial posts in Pashinyan’s first cabinet formed following last spring’s “velvet revolution.” Pashinyan sacked his Dashnaktsutyun-affiliated ministers in October, accusing their party of secretly collaborating with the former regime.